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Hudson River Almanac February 13 - 20, 2006

OVERVIEW

After a warmer-than-usual January, February is showing us some typical winter phenomena and weather: a snowy owl along the barrier islands of Queens, harp seals and harbor seals, and a vicious storm sweeping across the Mohawk River valley into the upper Hudson.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

2/16 - Breezy Point, Queens: Rangers Chris Olijnyk, Steve Olijnyk, and intern Katey Hietala met me at the local diner before work to celebrate the snowy owl that had settled at the tip of Breezy Point. After breakfast we rode out to the site where Chris was the first to spot the bird in the beautiful early morning light. Standing like a snowman on the crest of a secondary dune, a large, young female snowy owl surveyed her territory. It was a stunning scene, and a wonderful way to start any 50°F+ winter day.
- Dave Taft

[Fall and winter incursions of snowy owls are more or less regular occurrences every few years, and are thought to be caused by the low numbers of their prey - hares and lemmings - to the north. Eric Lind]

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES

2/13 - Danskammer Point, HRM 66.5: This morning, just after 7:00 AM, an adult bald eagle was perched in a tree right in front of the new perch. So close. We're still waiting for the first use of the newly constructed day/feeding perch.
- Sue Tokle

2/13 - Queens, New York City: We got 23" of snow in northern Queens, perhaps a bit more in southern Queens at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. A juvenile harbor seal was sighted today at Jacob Riis Park, near Rockaway.
- Dave Taft

2/14 - Round Top, HRM 113: We only had 3" of snow; the storm missed us. I wished we had more in the woods to keep the trees cool for maple sugaring. We cannot wait any longer and will start tapping today. Others have already begun but we have held off due to the warm weather.
- Jon Powell

2/14 - Catskill, HRM 113: From Dutchmen's Landing, I counted 40 common goldeneye, 27 common mergansers, and one bald eagle eating a small fish on the remnant ice across the river. At the RamsHorn-Livingston Sanctuary (HRM 112.2) I spotted a great blue heron, a red-tailed hawk, 2 dozen robins, several white-throated sparrows, and some tree sparrows.
- Larry Federman

2/14 - Dogan Point, HRM 39.5: Valentine's Day provided us with some courtship displays of bald eagles. In late afternoon, we watched a fantastic non-stop show over Dogan Point: interactions among 12 bald eagles, both adult and immature. The show included gliding, swooping, tandem flights, talon hookups, dives, and twirls. We couldn't take our eyes off the amazing display. It was interesting to see how some of the eagles would glide over the tree tops and flush those that were perched, as if to join in the festivities. The pale blue sky served as a perfect backdrop for all the activity.
- Dorothy Ferguson, Bob Ferguson

2/14 - George's Island, HRM 39: Having decided to take my kayak out in the late afternoon, I headed north. As I paddled past George' s Island, the sky above me filled with bald eagles. I counted 7 - 2 adults, 5 immatures - soaring together, some of them diving, touching another, and then moving away.
- Steve Butterfass

2/14 - Jacob Riis Park, Queens: Ranger Steve Olijnyk called me to report a juvenile harp seal hauled out at Riis Park. The seal stayed only long enough to celebrate Valentine's Day, and then caught the next high tide out of the city.
- Dave Taft

2/15 - Newcomb, HRM 302: It was a bright sunny morning; I didn't even wear a coat to work. The thermometer read 50°F just after 8:00 AM. This time of year the sun can feel toasty warm; sure beats the thin and watery sun of January that has no warmth to speak of.
- Ellen Rathbone

2/16 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I think I had a flock of Bohemian waxwings this morning in a tree next to my yard. Toby Rathbone and I were walking and we did not have binoculars, but we could tell they were waxwings. The vocalization, however, wasn't what I hear for cedar waxwings. Later I tried an Internet search and found a recording for Bohemian waxwings. That was it. I hope they stay around for this weekend's Great Backyard Bird Count.
- Ellen Rathbone

2/16 - Town of Poughkeepsie, HRM 68: The air temperature reached 60°F, tying the record high for the date.
- National Weather Service

2/16 - Oscawana Island, HRM 38.5: As we passed by on Metro North headed to Manhattan, we spotted an immature bald eagle perched in a tree on the point at Oscawana. This seems to be a regular perch for eagles; we've seen one there most mornings of this winter.
- Michael Boyajian, Jeri Wagner

2/17 - Albany, HRM 145: The National Weather Service warned of a storm front passing through the Capital Region at a speed of 55 mph. The front was laced with thunderstorms and hailstones the size of golf balls in some places. Wind gusts were measured at 77 mph, hurricane force on the Beaufort Scale. Uprooted trees smashed into homes and littered streets. Roofs were torn off, causing road closures and major power outages.

[The Beaufort Scale was created by British Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort in 1806, primarily for use at sea, but equally useful for terrestrial storms. Sustained wind speeds of 56-63 equate to a violent storm. At 64 mph and higher, you are encountering hurricane force winds. Tom Lake]

2/17 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: The hundred foot-tall white pine held the nest in its arms as it canted back and forth in the face of sustained winds of 30+ mph, and gusts over 50. Eagles chose their nest trees for many reasons, including access, height of ground, view, the neighborhood and, it would seem, tensile strength. Pines are one of their favorite; they bend in the wind but resist breaking.
- Tom Lake

2/17 - Chelsea, HRM 66: It was 55°F along the river just before first light. I could hear a small flock of Canada geese arriving from somewhere inland. As they passed over in the dark, close on their tail was another silhouette, a bit larger, and not chasing but following. It was the dark shape of an eagle. They were all headed for breakfast.
- Tom Lake

2/18 - Newcomb, HRM 302: We had gale force winds [34-40 mph] resulting in many trees down as well as tons of debris on the trails at the Adirondack Park Visitors Interpretive Center. One of my honeysuckles lost two trunks in the wind. I tossed them over the fence yesterday into my yard and then dragged them next to my free-standing feeders, which have received little visitation this winter since they are rather exposed. This morning the "trees" were covered with redpolls.
- Ellen Rathbone

2/18 - Minerva, HRM 284: All hell broke loose here yesterday. Minerva just got most of its power back a couple of hours ago after a nasty night and day of -20°F wind chills. Trees and large branches are down everywhere. What a winter.
- Mike Corey

2/18 - Saratoga County, HRM196: Saratoga and Warren counties got hammered by the storm. The local news reported some gusts to 100 mph. Most people were without power for two days. Trees were down, roads were closed, and many homes sustained roof damage
- John DeLisle

2/18 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 68: There was a white-out in mid-morning as a snow squall swept across the river from the west accompanied by strong winds. It arrived in a hurry and gulls in the air found themselves flying sideways and backwards.
- Tom Lake

2/18 - Croton-on-Hudson, HRM 35: It was late afternoon when I looked out my window and spotted an adult bald eagle flying toward me and then up to the top of the house. It had some kind of prey in its talons. I ran immediately out back and looked up into the trees behind the house. At first I saw nothing, but then it flew out from a tree down into a swale of woods across the way. It went out of my view, but then seemed to appear from another direction. But this was another adult joining the first. I watched them fly back and forth, closer and closer, until they were just above me. With the setting sun shining directly on them I was able to enjoy a great view. Soon they turned and headed south, toward the river, and out of sight.
- Kathy Sutherland

2/19 - Newcomb, HRM 302: Toby Rathbone and I were headed home from our morning walk and as I looked up into the sky, facing the rising sun, I saw bands of color on the clouds. At first I thought it was a sundog, but it wasn't a corona around the sun. These were iridescent clouds. The colors were mostly pink and green, with a touch of yellow in one spot, a trace of violet in another, bands of color at the edges of the clouds.
- Ellen Rathbone

["...occasionally, when conditions are just right, high, thin clouds will scatter colored light, creating beautiful bands of color. These clouds, known as iridescent, or opalescent, clouds, are made up of uniform drops of water, each of which is about the same size or smaller than a wavelength of red light. The drops scatter light of different wavelengths at different angles, creating the colors shown here. Bands of color may appear at the edge of a cloud." From The Color of Nature by Pat Murphy and Paul Doherty]

2/19 - Cheviot, HRM 106: After five days of not seeing any eagles, this morning I spotted 2 adults flying north along the river's edge. One circled around and flew south to the shore at Cheviot. The other, after a couple of minutes, returned as well to harass gulls and cormorants. At exactly noon, they were perched very close to each other in the top of the tallest tree out on the island, at the end of the long dock. The feathers of one reflected sunlight a little more "brownish" though it exhibited a white head and tail. The other was black with white head and tail. It seemed that the black one was slightly larger than the brownish one, probably the female of the pair.
- Susan Droege

2/19 - Eagle Nest, Dutchess County: A couple of times each day, when possible, I stop by to check out the eagle nest. Today, however, my afternoon check was unnecessary. As I stepped out of my truck and looked up, the pair were engaged in courtship 200' overhead. The display was not as elaborate or sustained as some I'd seen this winter, but this pair, entering their 5th nesting season, were veterans. After a couple of minutes of wing touches and shadow flying, they both drifted out over the river and away.
- Tom Lake

2/20 - Newcomb, HRM 302: I had a male red-winged blackbird in my cherry tree this morning. He was not a happy-looking bird at all. There were still many redpolls (over 100) surrounding him, gobbling up sunflower seeds and thistle. He just sat there, fluffed up, looking miserable.
- Ellen Rathbone

2/20 - Town of Wappinger, HRM 66.5: Almost a year ago to the day we counted 47 wild turkeys parading across our lawn. This afternoon the flock numbered 25, but still very impressive.
- Bruce Pung, Rosalie Pung

2/20 - Town of Fishkill, HRM 63.5: I pulled into the parking lot of the Stony Kill Farm Environmental Education Center in late afternoon. Sitting on a log at the edge of the lot was a chipmunk, the first I'd seen since late fall.
- Reba Wynn Laks

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